For the past few years or so, I have continually come across Duffy's 'Stripping of the Altars' in various classes I've taken, but never had the chance to actually read it. When my thesis (on censorship and the theatre under Mary Tudor) led me once again to Catholicism in England, I was pleased to finally have the opportunity to actually sit down and read some of Duffy's works. While I still need to read the chapter on Mary Tudor in 'Stripping of the Altars,' I read through Duffy's new 'Fires of Faith.'
As far as historical writings go, I would say that this is definitely one of the best I have ever read. Duffy's writing is clear, engaging, and chock full of interesting (and still relevant) details and trailblazing, thorough analysis. While he certainly does not condone the burning of nearly 300 Protestants by the Marian regime, he constantly and forcefully argues for their continuity and place within the context of mid-sixteenth century England and Europe. The burning of heretics was a policy which was alive and well before, during, and after Mary's reign across Europe, and he also, importantly, notes the large number of dissidents who were executed under Elizabeth; though they were almost always indicted for treason, which is a whole other story as relevant and interesting as it may be. A point which he doesn't bring up, though one which is supportive of his argument, is one which Judith Richard makes in her recent biography of Mary: Bishop Cranmer (who was himself burned under Mary), at the end of Edward VI's reign, was in the process of writing up heresy legislation that very closely resembled that of the Marian regime. And, if Edward had not died so young in 1553, it almost certainly would have been ratified and there is no telling how many Catholics would have been burned at the stake. How would the burnings under Mary be perceived if that legislation had been put into effect?
All in all, 'Fires of Faith' is a must read for anyone interested in Tudor England, the English Reformation(s), or the religiosity of the calamitous sixteenth century. It is an enjoyable and easy read that cuts down many of the antiquated and inaccurate historical constructions/narratives which have persisted for too long about Mary, her religion, and her reign. Anyone interested in Mary should also check out Judith Richard's biography, any of the other recent biographies (Linda Porter), or some of the other recent revisionist works on English Catholicism and Marian England (cf. Lucy Wooding, David Loades, William Wizeman).